As students across the state returned to the classroom–and some in Baltimore City and Baltimore County had early closings or full days off due to a lack of air conditioning–Gov. Larry Hogan issued an executive order Tuesday creating an Office of Education Accountability to serve as “an independent watchdog unit” of the state’s school systems.
The order was paired with the announcement the Hogan administration intends to reintroduce legislation during the 2019 session to create an inspector general monitoring education corruption. A similar bill introduced by the governor in the last session, the Accountability in Education Act of 2018, was never brought to a vote.
“But our children cannot and should not have to wait until the legislature returns to Annapolis in January,” said Hogan. “They deserve action beginning right now.”
The new office will look into funding, building conditions, grade fixing and other improprieties and will refer complaints to the state board of education and local school boards. In instances of criminal conduct, the office will work with the attorney general or local state’s attorney.
The office will also be tasked with issuing a report with recommendations and solutions to school boards on the state and local level.
Valerie Radomsky, Comptroller Peter Franchot’s chief advisor for education policy and a former Baltimore County teacher, has been tapped to direct the new agency. An anonymous tip site was launched today to gather information from whistleblowers.
“Our children desperately need someone to fight for their civil rights,” Hogan said, “and that is exactly what we intend to continue to do.”
In discussing both the executive order and the second attempt for an education inspector general, Hogan referred to a grade-fixing scandal in Prince George’s County, a lack of air conditioning in some Baltimore County schools, former Baltimore County Schools superintendent Dallas Dance’s guilty plea to perjury charges, news reports on the failing test scores of Baltimore City students (that fail to mention similarly poor results in wealthier jurisdictions) and mold in Howard County schools as just some of the reasons for more accountability.
“Parents, students and teachers are rightfully outraged that some of our children are being cheated out of the education they deserved, and are being robbed of a better future,” he said.
The governor both defended his handling of the school system–touting $25 billion in spending over the course of his term–and slamming the General Assembly for passing, and overriding his veto of, legislation that proponents said protects schools from privatization efforts.
Today, Hogan said the bill only protected failing schools and made it more difficult for the state to comply with federal guidelines.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former NAACP president Ben Jealous said the school system’s problems go back to funding. Jealous has proposed increasing funds and raising teachers’ salaries by ensuring the state’s portion of casino revenues goes toward education, as had been originally promised.
“A political investigator run out of the Governor’s Office won’t change the fact that our schools are underfunded by billions of dollars and our teachers are underpaid,” he said in a statement. “As governor, I will fully fund our schools, not blame our hardworking teachers and support staff.”
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